Texas grand jury finds that a GIF can be considered a weapon

gavel
In a first-of-its-kind case, a Texas grand jury this week ruled that an animated GIF can be considered a deadly weapon. The decision stems from a December 2016 incident in which a GIF was sent via a tweet with the intention of causing a seizure in the recipient. The grand jury along with the U.S. Department of Justice issued a series of indictments against John Rayne Rivello, who is accused of sending a flashing Pepe the Frog image with the intention of inducing an epileptic seizure in Newsweek journalist Kurt Eichenwald.

Rivello allegedly was upset with Eichenwald’s critical coverage of President Donald Trump and sent the seizure-inducing image in a tweet with the message “You deserve a seizure for your post.”

FBI investigators believe Rivello created a fake Twitter account under the name Ari Goldstein to send the message to Eichenwald. According to the DOJ complaint, Rivello made it clear that his intention was to harm Eichenwald boasting in direct messages to friends that “I hope this sends him into a seizure” and “Spammed this at [Eichenwald] let’s see if he dies.”

This isn’t the first time an animated GIF has been used maliciously to trigger seizures, but it is the first time an individual has been charged. In 2008, hackers compromised the Epilepsy Foundation website, posting seizure-inducing images on the main page. Nobody was harmed in that incident, and no criminal charges were filed because the hacking group remained anonymous. The Eichenwald case is different because the image caused a seizure and the sending of it could be traced back to a single individual.

“I’m unaware of anybody being criminally prosecuted for this,” said defense attorney Tor Ekeland to NBC News. “If it’s not the first time, it’s one of the first times this has happened.”

Rivello is being charged under a federal cyberstalking law that makes it a crime to use electronic communication “with the intent to kill, injure, harass, [or] intimidate” a victim. It often is used in cases of revenge porn or emailed death threats, but this is the first time the law has been applied to a tweeted GIF. In the indictment, Rivello is accused of using a tweet, a GIF, an electronic device and his hands as a deadly weapon in an attempted assault on Eichenwald.

Some legal experts like Ekeland are concerned this case could set a dangerous precedent that could be applied in unexpected ways. “How do you know a photo can or can’t set off a medical condition? You can see the slippery slope here. Are they going to use it to ban art people don’t like because it upsets someone?” Ekeland said.

Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: heat-powered watches, phone cases with reflexes

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Gaming

Immerse yourself in a new universe with these incredible PSVR games

The PSVR has surpassed expectations and along with it comes an incredible catalog of games. There's plenty of amazing experiences to be had so we've put together a list of the best PSVR games available today.
Home Theater

The best movies on Netflix in December, from 'Buster Scruggs’ to 'Roma'

Save yourself from hours wasted scrolling through Netflix's massive library by checking out our picks for the streamer's best movies available right now, whether you're into explosive action, witty humor, or anything else.
Movies & TV

The best shows on Netflix, from 'Haunting of Hill House’ to ‘Norsemen’

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.
Emerging Tech

Why wait? Here are some CES 2019 gadgets you can buy right now

Companies come to CES to wow us with their cutting edge technology, but only a few products are slated to hit the market right away. Here is our list of the best CES 2019 tech you can buy right now.
Emerging Tech

Drones: New rules could soon allow flights over people and at night

With commercial operators in mind, the U.S. government is looking to loosen restrictions on drone flights with a set of proposals that would allow the machines greater freedom to fly over populated areas and also at night.
Emerging Tech

Yamaha’s new app lets you tune your motorcycle with a smartphone

It used to be that if you wanted to tune your motorcycle’s engine and tweak its performance, you needed specialized tools and even more specialized knowledge. Yamaha’s new Power Tuner app changes that.
Emerging Tech

Short film celebrates New Yorker’s amazing robot costumes

New York City resident Peter Kokis creates stunning robot costumes out of household trash. His designs are huge, heavy, and extremely intricate, and never fail to turn heads when he's out and about.
Emerging Tech

In a first for humankind, China is growing plants on the moon

Having recently landed a probe on the far side of the moon, China announced that it managed to grow the first plant on the moon, too. Here's why that matters for deep space travel.
Emerging Tech

Ford’s sweaty robot bottom can simulate 10 years of seat use in mere days

Ford has developed 'Robutt,' a sweaty robot bottom that's designed to simulate the effects of having a pair of human buttocks sitting on its car seats for thousands of hours. Check it out.
Emerging Tech

CES 2019 recap: All the trends, products, and gadgets you missed

CES 2019 didn’t just give us a taste of the future, it offered a five-course meal. From 8K and Micro LED televisions to smart toilets, the show delivered with all the amazing gadgetry you could ask for. Here’s a look at all the big…
Emerging Tech

Want to know which drones are flying near you? There’s an app for that

Want to know what that mysterious drone buzzing over your head is up to? A new system developed by AirMap, Google Wing, and Kittyhawk.io could soon tell you -- via a map on your phone.
Emerging Tech

A Japanese hotel fires half its robot staff for being bad at their jobs

Japan’s oddball Henn na Hotel has fired half of its 243 robot staff. The reason? Because these labor-saving machines turned out to be causing way more problems than they were solving.
Emerging Tech

CERN plans to build a massive particle collider that dwarfs the LHC

CERN already has the world's biggest particle accelerator. Now it wants a bigger one. Meet the 9 billion euro Future Circular Collider that will allow physicists to extend their study of the universe and matter at the smallest level.